Can we carry a weapon to go to the cinema? Can we be deprived of it in the event of domestic violence?
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The high court struck down a New York state law that for more than a century had limited the issuance of concealed-carry permits to people who could prove they needed them for self-defense.
As usual, his decision will not take effect until confirmed by a federal court. The New York police chief has therefore warned that in the meantime, her officers will continue to arrest people carrying a weapon without a license.
New York State has other restrictive laws, including prohibiting the possession of assault weapons. The Supreme Court ruling, which deals only with handguns, does not affect them.
Local elected officials have also indicated that they will seek to vote on new measures to limit the scope of the decision published Thursday.
At the federal level, the United States Senate got to work as early as Thursday night: It passed a bill backed by elected officials from both major parties, including restrictions on access to firearms and billions of dollars to fund mental health and safety in schools. The project has every chance of being validated by the House of Representatives on Friday.
Five states, including California and Maryland, as well as the federal capital Washington have laws comparable to New York’s. The judgment of the court should allow their detractors to bring them down in the more or less short term.
With nearly 80 million people living in these states, a quarter of the US population will be affected in total.
“Reasonable and well-defined restrictions” will remain possible, but only if they respect “the history and traditions of the United States”, decided the Supreme Court, sweeping away all the other criteria used so far.
“This means that data proving that a law saves lives or prevents terrorizing a population will no longer be relevant,” notes law professor Joseph Blocher of Duke University.
“Only the historical analogies count”, so that “many questions which were considered settled can be reopened”, he told AFP, giving the example of the federal law authorizing the seizure of the weapon of an abusive husband. In 1791, when the Supreme Court began sitting, “there was no law to disarm perpetrators of domestic violence,” he notes.
The judgment authorizes limiting the carrying of weapons only “in very limited circumstances”, also notes Jeffrey Fagan, professor of law at Columbia University, who wonders how it will be interpreted: “is Can we come to church armed? In public transports? in a cinema?”
For him, “we are going to witness a period of experimentation, a game of cat and mouse between local officials who will try to limit the carrying of arms on their soil and the arms lobby, supported by conservatives , who will seek to extend it”.
Half of the states, including Texas and Michigan, already allow their residents to carry guns in public without requiring a license, according to the Giffords Legal Center, which campaigns for better regulation of firearms. But almost all prohibit doing so in places deemed “sensitive”, for example schools or bars.
Building on Thursday’s ruling, the gun lobby could tackle those limits. “I can imagine people arguing that crowded places like the subway had no analogies in 1791 and that banning guns there is unconstitutional,” predicts Darrell Miller, also a researcher at Duke University.
For him, no doubt, “there will be a lot of debate in the courts to understand exactly the substance of the judgment” of the Supreme Court.